Crime mapping gets political

Over the past few months Crime Mapping has floated up the political agenda, reaching the mainstream with Boris Johnson’s recent call for crime mapping, echoed by the Guardian’s Free our Data campaign, and this morning followed up by the reporting of Louise Casey’s Cabinet Office report.

You would think from the media, that this is something new in the UK, but in fact Crime Mapping has been taking place for many years, and the UK has world renowned expertise as demonstrated by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science at UCL who next month are running the 6th, yes that’s the 6th National Crime Mapping Conference in Manchester.

What is new, and what should be applauded, is at last a focus on making much of this information available to the public- until now the efforts have concentrated on producing crime maps for internal consumption by police forces themselves.

As a matter of principal, making information public is always a good thing, when the information allows citizens to make decisions, and to independently monitor the services provided to them by Government.

We should not have to rely on maps like the one below created by Keir Clarke, who scraped local authority websites to build this mash-up.

London Crime map

If I can use this website to monitor the performance of British Airways, should I not be able to monitor the effectiveness of my local police force.

There is often a disconnect between peoples perception of crime and its actual occurrence, a map with a few push-pins representing successful neighbourhood policing will be much more valuable than the next crime survey report finding.

Of course there must be mechanisms to protect the identity of individual victims of crime, but is the situation really much different from the crime reporting in Local Newspapers ?

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

6 comments

  1. Ian Turton

    Unfortunately crime mapping is more complicated than sticking pins in a map if you want it to show any thing more than where the local night clubs are (if you map street violence) or the most houses are (burglary). Trust me, we did a lot of work back in the 90’s for police forces that was based on sound epidemiological principals and we produced some tools that could work well for an expert analyst with training. But there was no way I’d trust a member of the general public (or the tabloid press) to do crime analysis than I want them trying to find cancer clusters.

    What really makes you think that a map of where crime occurs will tell you anything useful? or that the police wouldn’t fiddle the data (if they have any good data) – as an aside the biggest hotspot we usually found would be the police station as all the coppers knew it’s postcode when they were filling out a report.

    As for protecting privacy I wouldn’t want my health data on the web (even at postcode level) and I can think of several crimes I might be victim to I would also prefer to keep to my self.

    Ian

  2. Simon

    saw a guy from Metro Police at the ESRI ArcGIS Server training – seems they are keen to keep up to date, as always in the public sector, budgets usually keep them down a notch on the ladder.

  3. Charles

    “is the situation really much different from the crime reporting in Local Newspapers ?”

    Actually, if you use crime maps, it’s *really* different, because you give an accurate picture of what’s going on. Local papers do a good job, but their aim is to interest the reader – not give a dispassionate picture of what has really happened. That’s the potential benefit of crime maps.

  4. Ed

    @Ian, I agree we need to protect the individual victim, but too often privacy is used as an excuse not to publish data.

    @Charles, my badly made point with reference to the local papers was in regard to privacy.

    I agree publishing the raw statistics is fundamentally different.

    BTW That is something I would really like to see, provide the raw data as well as the maps for people to mash-up. I’m sure people like my-society would be able to come up with all sorts of useful new services with access to the raw data.

  5. Keir Clarke

    Ed, It’s not strictly true that I ‘scraped’ local authority websites. I used the Met Police services published crime data – which they release in xls format. The problem is that they don’t geo-tag crimes in this data below ward level. Therefore you can only get a picture of crime on a ward by ward basis.

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